Columbus installs cameras at railroad crossings to help emergency response times

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COLUMBUS, Ind. – An increase in heavy train traffic in Columbus is causing concerns for both drivers and first responders and now the city is hoping the installation of a camera system will help with response times.

"We've heard of delay times of up to 15 minutes," said Columbus Fire Department PIO Mike Wilson.

Those delays for drivers are because they're sitting in heavy traffic due to an increase in trains moving through Columbus. If cars and trucks are getting stuck behind the trains, that means firefighters, police, and medics are, too.

"The traffic’s obviously a concern for us. We have to be able to get our resources, essentially on both sides of the tracks," Wilson said.

CSX plans to double the current train traffic in the area. Starting sometime this year, there will be up to 22 trains moving through Columbus each day, which equals about one train an hour. Because of Bartholomew County's winding roads and hilly geography, the trains move slower, meaning longer backups.

For first responders, sometimes seconds are all they have to get to an emergency.

"Our response times are very important to us and we want to get there are fast as we possibly can to provide medical care or attack that fire," said Wilson.

City leaders have installed cameras at three crossing locations to help with the emergency response times. When they become fully functional in a few months, they'll send a signal to the 911 center when a train is approaching an intersection.

"They’ll have a screen that has all three of the railroad crossing shown and once a train crosses one of those crossings, the camera notices the motion, transmits that signal to the 911 center," explained city engineer Mike Hayward.

Dispatchers can then help guide first responders to alternate routes.

There is help coming for drivers, too. In October 2107, FOX59 showed how students at Purdue Polytechnic Institute were developing an app to also help drivers avoid train traffic. The app is still in the works.

First responders are hoping both of these tools will also mean fewer accidents on and near the tracks.

"Train vs. car, train vs. pedestrian, hazardous materials incidents, so there’s a lot out there and we’ve gotta be ready," said Wilson.

The city is also working on a $30 million project to build an overpass above the train tracks. Construction is expected to get underway in late 2019.

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